Nomada by Laura Russo

Nomada by Laura Russo

Snow Scorpionfly taken by Graham Montgomery, Entomology undergrad

Spider Biology and Behavior

Spider Biology and Behavior
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Welcome to the Department of Entomology

For more than 125 years, our faculty members, staff and students have been working to advance the field of insect biology and apply that knowledge to solve problems and improve lives.

As one of the top-ranked entomology programs in the country, our work spans the globe and impacts human lives on many levels, influencing a broad range of disciplines including human and veterinary medicine, farming, biodiversity and genomics.

Entomology News

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Study challenges widely held assumption of bee evolution

Nov 16, 2018
A new study rewrites a commonly cited hypothesis about bee evolution and the cause behind an explosion in diversity of bee species some 120 million years ago.
Today, bees are incredibly diverse, accounting for around 20,000 species, with nearly all larvae consuming a diet of flower pollen and nectar.
Researchers have widely believed that bees evolved from carnivorous wasps and that pollen feeding, called pollinivory, allowed bees to rapidly diversify. The idea was that the new food source promoted new species to develop. But no one had tested this hypothesis, until now.

Silas Bossert/Provided
A male of Megachile willughbiella. This species is a generalist, feeding on a variety of unrelated host-plants, such as asters, legumes or stonecrops.
The new study, published Nov. 14 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biology Letters, used a recent, existing evolutionary tree of bees and computer models to calculate diversification rates in bees and related wasps. The researchers showed – for the first time – that pollinivory was an important step, but the rapid diversification of bees is better explained by a later development when bees shifted from being specialists narrowly focused on a few host-plant species to generalists that fed on many host plants.
“Broadening of plant diets opened up new and unexploited ecological niches,” said Silas Bossert, a graduate student in the lab of entomology professor Bryan Danforth, and a lead author of the paper along with Elizabeth Murray, a former postdoctoral researcher, also in Danforth’s lab. 
“We found that some of the earliest-originating bees did not partake in the diversification upswing,” Murray said. “Our findings indicate that pollen-feeding was an important evolutionary switch, but does not fully explain the diversity we see today. We postulate that other complementary innovations, such as a generalist host-plant diet, influenced the tremendous diversification of the major bee lineages.”
Bees arose from within a group of carnivorous hunting wasps in the mid-Cretaceous period, around the same time that flowering plants began spreading.
The researchers used the most current phylogeny (a branching, tree-like diagram that shows evolutionary relatedness among groups of organisms) that offered a new perspective on the origin of bees. That phylogeny offers evidence that the sister family to bees were small wasps (Ammoplanidae)that hunted thrips, tiny pollen-eating, aphid-like insects.

Silas Bossert/Provided
A male of Melitta leporina. This bee belongs to the bee family Melittidae, which are host-plant specialists. M. leporina exclusively collects pollen from legumes.
The current study shows that rates of diversification between carnivorous wasps and the earliest pollen-eating bees (the family Melittidae) match closely, with low species numbers per family (123 species for Ammoplanidae wasps, for example, and 203 Melittidae bee species). At the same time, most melittid bees are highly specialized and feed on a narrow range of host plant flowers.
The bees that appeared after Melittidae in the evolutionary tree are generalists and feed on many host plants; these bee families also show an explosion in rates of diversification, with many more species per family.
Prior to this study, Murray had researched a subfamily of pollen-feeding wasps (Masarinae), whose species numbers are also small (around 350). She then questioned why bees are so diverse compared to pollen wasps. It turns out, pollen-feeding wasps are specialists that feed on just a few host plants.
“The broader conclusion would be that switches in diet don’t necessarily lead to diversification, unless there’s something else that happens, like a broadening of that diet,” said Danforth, the paper’s senior author.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation. Read more

Laura Harrington "Mosquito-to-mosquito infections keep dengue circulating"

Nov 2, 2018
Mosquito-to-mosquito infections keep dengue circulating
By Krishna Ramanujan |
October 31, 2018
While mosquitoes acquire dengue viruses from people when they feed on blood, the insects can also infect each other, a recent study finds. 
Under normal conditions, when mosquito and host populations are robust, dengue is transmitted in a cycle from mosquitoes to human hosts and back to new mosquitoes, which keeps the virus in circulation.
But the study – published Aug. 31 in the journal Public Library of Science Neglected Tropical Diseases – reveals mother Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit dengue viruses to their offspring and, for the first time, finds evidence of male mosquitoes infecting females when they mate.
The research answers a big question among disease ecologists: how the virus is maintained during periods when mosquitoes become less active or when populations drop – such as in dry and cold spells – and when hosts are less susceptible.
“The study highlights how much we still need to know about the biology of these viruses and their interactions with the mosquitoes,” said Laura Harrington, professor of entomology at Cornell. Harrington is a co-lead author of the paper along with Irma Sanchez-Vargas, a research scientist at Colorado State University.
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Now that researchers have proven these modes of transmission in the lab, next steps will be to test if they similarly occur in the field.
The research opens the door for potential new virus control methods that focus more on male mosquitoes, which tend to be ignored because they don’t take blood meals. “It indicates to me that males could actually be directly involved in transmission in the virus cycle,” Harrington said. “If we could understand in more detail what’s happening in the field, we might be able to target the populations when they are very low and minimize carry-overs of the virus from one epidemic to the next.”
The results have implications for other disease-causing viruses where mosquitoes are vectors, including yellow fever, Zika and chikungunya. These viruses tend to infect all tissues in the mosquito’s body before they reach the salivary glands, Harrington said. More research is needed to identify the exact mechanisms that allow transmission from one mosquito to another, but possibilities include eggs being infected when females fertilize them, and through seminal fluids during mating when males infect females, Harrington said.
Many other researchers have tested mosquitoes for transmissions between mothers and offspring and from males to females after mating, but those studies tested infections after a single blood meal. The meal helps the female develop a clutch of eggs. 
“When they take one blood meal there is often not enough time for the virus to actually escape and make it into the ovarian tissue,” Harrington said. The current study re-created natural conditions with mosquitoes taking multiple blood meals, which led to higher infection rates between mosquitoes. Males acquire the virus in the egg and pass it on to females when they mate as adults.
The researchers began with a large number of wild-caught mosquitoes and conducted blind experiments, waiting to determine whether mosquitoes were infected. They separated females and gave them an infectious blood meal and a second noninfectious meal. They collected the second batch of eggs from females, surface sterilized the eggs, hatched and reared offspring to adulthood, and tested them for virus infections. From a subset of infected progeny, they reared a second set of progeny, then mated infected males from that second generation to uninfected females. They then went back and tested the male and the females he mated with for infection.
The paper’s senior co-author is virologist Ken Olson at Colorado State. Other co-authors include Jeffrey Doty at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and William Black at Colorado State.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Cornell Affinito Stewart Sabbatical Grant, and the Regents of the University of California through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative. Read more

Forensic Investigation Research Station in Grand Junction, CO

Oct 29, 2018
Picture of Current crew at the Forensic Investigation Research Station in Grand Junction, CO., affiliated with Colorado Mesa University.  Director Dr. Melissa Connor is in the lower right corner.  This is the only facility in the western US devoted to the study of human decomposition under semi-arid conditions, a common environment in the western US.  Land has been recently donated to open a second facility at 9,300 ft to complement the research at FIRS located at 4,600 ft elevation.  The majority of the research is focused on time-of-death estimates to assist law enforcement in the mountain west. Elson Shields left of picture.

Pollinator Network

Pollinators are essential for maintaining floral diversity and for producing many important agricultural crops that feed residents of New York and other areas of the world. 

Cornell University has a robust network of pollinator research and extension program related to all aspects of pollinator life: Ecology, Evolution, Biodiversity, Behavior, Pesticides, Pests, parasites, and disease, Pollinator management.  Explore the Cornell Pollinator website for information on bee research taking place at Cornell, news and upcoming events, and for a variety of extension materials related to pollinators and beekeeping.

Engaged Entomology

EOA students Mike Wolfin and Zach Cohen have been visiting local schools educating students about different insects and arthropods while Joanna Fisher has been visiting with groups like 4H, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Master Forest Owners, EAB First Detectors trying to teach the public how to identify invasive species like emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid, and Asian longhorned beetle.

The Naturalist Outreach group has been visiting local classrooms and community groups to talk about the natural history, ecology, and behavior of animals and plants.  They have also created a series of videos teaching the public about an array of issues from pollination to bats to aquatic insects and more.  This group is not only teaching but trying to inspire and engage more people into science.

Insectapalooza is a one day insect fair held annually by the department bringing in families from as far as Michigan each year.  This event reaches thousands of visitors who get hands on experience learning about many different arthropods, their importance and benefits to our community.

Emprire Farm Days and the New York State Fair are two other annual events attended by the Department of Entomology where large groups of people are reached.  

Student Experience

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Jacob, a large shelter dog from Cortland, prepares to mark a bush.

Small dogs aim high

Aug 15, 2018
According to new research from Cornell, smaller dogs angle their legs higher when they urinate, possibly to exaggerate their body size. Or perhaps not. Read more